Health Risks Associated with Exposure to Solder Fumes
In industries that involve the soldering of electronic components, exposure to solder fumes can be inevitable. Solder fumes usually come from burned rosin-based flux materials that are invariably used to create electrical connections – causing hazards that can be detrimental to employee health.
Rosin, Flux and Soldering
A naturally occurring material obtained from pine trees, rosin or colophony is an adhesive used in soldering processes. As the flux material, it is commonly used to prevent oxidation, as it cleans the surface and improves the effectiveness of the solder or the metal – to assure a permanently bonded connection.
Solder Fumes and the Long-Term Consequences
Solder fumes occur as a result of heated rosin-based fluxes – this contains a range of resin acid particulates which can cause long-term discomfort and ill health.
Exposure and Inhalation
As solder fumes rise vertically during hand soldering pratices, they can enter the human body through the breathing zone. Failure to manage the spread of solder fumes can lead to a significant reduction in employee productivity, potentially causing further downtime.
Exposure to solder fumes from resin or colophony-based solder flux can lead to a multitude of health hazards:
- Occupational asthma – one of the many risks caused by flux gases; coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing and chest pain are among the symptoms of asthma.
- Allergic hypersensitivity – another common health hazard, allergic hypersensitivity develops from the first few months of exposure and it can continue to build for years to come – causing wheezing and laboured breathing.
- Irritation – as a result of direct or indirect contact with resin-based solder flux, symptoms can range from simple eye or nose irritation to more severe airborne contact skin diseases.
- Solder fume can also cause other illnesses such as chronic bronchitis, chemical hypersensitivity, chest pain, headaches and dizziness.
Managing the Risks
Employers are responsible for the welfare of their workers; failure to comply will result in poor employee relations and possible legal action.
The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) requires employers in the soldering industry to control employee exposure to colophony-based solder fume – and employers MUST comply.
A Guide for Employers
Through a thorough risk assessment, employers can identify the causes and control solder fume exposure and inhalation. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) suggests employers:
- Identify and assess the health hazards associated with solder fume
- Take action to prevent exposure and control risks
- Keep control measures under regular review
What Employees Must Know
Employees must be wary of the many hazards triggered by solder fumes. Posture affects how they are exposed to and how they inhale solder fumes. Proper working posture, adequate ventilation and the use of fume extraction systems is vital to avoid health-related risks.
Proper Air Management
Fume extraction systems are essential in industries where soldering is fundamental to the overall production process, as they minimise solder fume exposure and reduce the risk of fire or explosions in the workplace. They also help to manage health hazards, while allowing companies to comply with local and national requirements at minimal cost – employers can save money.
While solder fumes are inevitable in certain environments, by taking the proper steps to minimise inhalation and exposure, this can help to manage any associated health risks.
With over 100 years’ experience in the industry, AirBench provides high quality fume extraction solutions that can assure safer working environments! For more information about our products, please call 01206 791191 or email us at [email protected].